I decided to start making paint!
One morning in early December I read an article about Rembrandt's paints. At the time, I didn't know how much impact it would have on me, but it started my curious mind down a path of obsessive learning.
If scientists figured out how to make his famous Impasto, does that mean someone else has figured out all of his actual paint recipes? As it turns out, yep, it sure does. I dove all the way in. Rembrandt, arguably the greatest artist of all time, used handmade paints. He made colors out of rocks and minerals from around the world, so what's stopping me from doing the same thing? I mean, all the same kinds of rocks are still found around the world, right?
Once I figured out the super obvious (obvious to me now, anyway) fact that a person could make paint on their own, I just had to learn how to do it for myself. Initially, my intentions were to make oil paints like Rembrandt, but surprise of all surprises, I actually love making watercolor paints.
In early January I found myself in downtown Cincinnati near Suder's Art Store. Suder's is this amazing art supply shop and has been serving Cincinnati artists since 1924! For a couple weeks I had been dreaming of getting the materials I needed to get started and make my first paint, so when I saw that familiar facade I just decided to go with it. Treat yo'self!
I suspected at the time that this would turn into a pretty obsessive interest of mine, so I wanted to be able to say this super cute fact in my future famous paint maker bio: I got my start in Cincinnati, Ohio. I wanted this sentence to be true all the way down to the glass muller I used, so I told the voice in my head that told me to get materials online to save money to be quiet and I joyfully dropped 95% of my broke sad bank account's contents at Suder's and grabbed the basics. It wasn't THAT much, I'm just really broke sometimes. Walking out of the shop with my little cardboard box of supplies was, and is still, such a joyful moment. I felt like I could take on the whole world! It's amazing what a new weird hobby can do for my brain. Total joy!
I bought a few basic pre-made pigments, a muller, a glass plate, and a bottle of linseed oil. It was time to make some oil paints!
It was not time to make some oil paints. It was time to bungle making oil paints. It was also time to accidentally dye myself and several of my belongings a beautiful French Lacquer Red.
It turns out it takes a whole bunch of pigment to make oil paint and my cheap brain kept chiming in. I got pretty frustrated making such small quantities, so I decided to check out YouTube and see if I could find tips or tricks. Maybe someone was having my same frustrations? Maybe there were other hella cheap artists out there who were also having a hard time scooping costly materials onto their tables and then accidentally slapping them with their hands and petting their cats before realizing. Maybe?
This led me to learning about watercolor paint making. I found a video of this really exceptionally cool looking woman mulling watercolor paint at her desk by a window. It was just so PEACEFUL. At the time, I'd never used watercolors before and they were really intimidating. I had the same feelings about oil paints, but the excitement of potentially bragging about the Rembrandt set I'd make would get me through it. (It didn't, see above.)
I really went for it guys. As soon as I found the first watercolor paint mulling video, I was sold. It's so peaceful! If you like those ASMR videos, you'd probably enjoy these. I watched everything I could find, and every video was intended to answer my questions, but then they led to new questions, rinse, repeat. I learned that to make watercolor paint I needed to make a binder for it. Easy enough. After you have a binder, you add pigment, then you use the paint muller until the pigment is evenly spread through the binder. Sometimes this is really easy! If you are using Mica powder as pigment you don't even need to mull it, you can mix it with a paintbrush or a spatula. Each pigment is a little different.
I started off with the now infamous French Lacquer Red. Since I already stained most of my house, a part of me was determined to make something useful finally come out of the situation.
EEEEEEEEEE IT'S JUST SO PRETTY!
THIS WAS SUCH A PROUD MOMENT FOR ME GUYS. I did it! I made paint!
Not only did I make paint, I made NINE HALF PANS OF IT. How satisfying! But wait, what do I do with nine pans of watercolor paint?
Cue the husband: i dunno, sell it? do people buy that stuff?
It turns out they super duper do. There's a whole bunch of artists who use and appreciate the unique qualities of handmade paints. Thank you, husband!
Now, let's talk a bit more about how cheap I am. I'm that friend who thinks they're always broke. It doesn't matter how much I have, if there's a debt under my name, I have whatever I have minus that. So, basically, I'm always broke. Thanks car payment, medical realities, and the student loan for the degree I didn't finish. (#Americanliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife)
It wasn't long before I circled back to the cost of my materials. Watercolor binder is thankfully pretty inexpensive to make. All of the ingredients are fairly common and you can purchase large quantities for what I consider to be pretty great prices. (reminder: so cheap. i am so cheap) Then we have the pigments. Pigments are not cheap. Pigments range from "moderately justifiable, not THAT bad" to "You have got to be actually fucking kidding me" in cost.
Cue that first article about Rembrandt's paints.
Well he was out there making paint out of rocks. I can get rocks. I wonder if I can also make paints out of rocks? I mean, that was, after all, the original goal.
Short answer: Yes, people can totally make paint out of rocks.
I have this super darling, incredibly sweet friend named Jenny. (She has the cutest baby boy I've ever met.) We talked about taking walks together to try to combat the winter blues, and one day in February a really nice day presented itself. We met out at a local park and went exploring with the intent to find some rocks to turn into paint!
Not gonna lie, I felt pretty insane walking into a park with a tote bag to collect rocks. Am I allowed to? Should I....? I mean spidey sense says no, but hey, let's risk it. If taking rocks from a city park is the worst thing I do this year that's not so bad.
We ended our walk with full pockets and 8 amazing new colors of rocks to try! I was on top of the world because this means that the WORLD is my art supply store and it's all FREE. FREE. (penny pinchers rejoice!)
Problem: As it turns out, you have to crush up rocks to make them into pigment. This is a whole lot harder than you expect it to be.
I bought myself a badass new cast iron mortar and pestle after unsuccessfully searching for one at a few thrift shops. This thing is going to outlive us all! (I am not sponsored by anyone, but I would be pretty fine with it if I was. Wink)
When my mortar and pestle arrived, I decided I would start with the softest of the rocks I collected. On the walls of this waterfall I found an incredible grey clay! When I got it home I spread it over a baking sheet and put it in the oven on low heat for an hour to dry out the moisture. I don't know if this is necessary but it seemed like a good idea.
Let's paint a picture. I'm located in Ohio, so winter here is a thing. I'm originally from Texas, so the idea of hanging out in my garage in January is not crazy. It's crazy here. SO! It's 20 degrees outside and I am dressed like Ralphie's Little Brother, new cast iron mortar and pestle in hand with a space heater under my arm. I make myself a little workshop where my husband's car is normally parked and get to work! EVERYTHING IS GREAT! ENDORPHINS ARE EVERYWHERE! I am making a pigment by hand that is unique to my area! Seriously, everything is coming up Carlynne.
Turns out, grinding up rocks in a mortar and pestle is super duper hard work. I thought for sure that the clay would practically fall to powder when coming into contact with that heavy mortar. It didn't. After two hours of questioning my life choices I managed to complete one ounce of hand ground pigment.
Only one ounce.
BUT I HAD AN OUNCE OF PIGMENT NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD HAS! So it's all ok.
I gathered up my things and headed up stairs to see about making some paint with my fancy new pigment. In the back of my mind, the gears were turning. There must be an easier way to grind these rocks!
Update: found it, and in a few weeks you'll get a whole post about it! It's a pretty wild find and I can't wait to share it. You think you know what's coming with this story but you don't. Stay tuned!
With fancy new free pigment in hand, I joyfully started trying to turn it into paint. Mulling clay is a lot rougher than mulling professionally sold pigments! To turn this into paint I mulled it for an episode of Downton Abbey. I love the paint mulling process! It's peaceful work and it forces me to take some time for myself. Art brings joy in both its process and its finished product!
In the above image you can see the finished product swatches. On the top row, I laid out five circles. I started with a single coat of paint on the left, then increased the layers of paint until I got to Five on the right. The second row... Well, I just wanted to put tape on something. The tape covered a single layer of paint and the exposed area got a second coat. The third row was a test to see how other colors would look if they were layered over this grey base. I named this pigment after the park where I found it. It's called SWP #1! I hope to have SWP #1-8 by the time I get the other rocks ground up.
So, I make paint now. I love the idea of collecting unique pigments during my travels, and hope to continue this project for many years.